Lakshman Kadirgamar - some facets
The tragic news of the assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar reached
me while I was on a visit to the USA after attending the 55th Pugwash
Conference in Hiroshima, July 22 - 27, 2005, commemorating the 60th
anniversary of the Atomic bombing.
My immediate impulse was to put down my disturbed thoughts in the
form of an obituary appreciation, if only to seek solace from the
terrible shock and grief at the loss of such a national treasure, but
held it for publication after I returned home and had seen other such
appreciations like that of Judge C.G. Weeramantry, another distinguished
Sri Lankan of similar calibre.
In Hiroshima, Dr. Weeramantry had characteristically brought the
audience to its feet in a standing ovation with his classic Dorothy
Hodgkin Memorial Lecture, together with distribution of copies of his
book on the Illegality of Nuclear Weapons.
My own humble appreciation for Lakshman Kadirgamar cannot match
eloquent tributes, like that of Dr.C.G. Weeramantry who analysed with
judicial acumen the sagacity and courage of the late foreign Minister,
who paid the ultimate price for his integrity in the dismal arena of
politics. Mine was more personal but for that very reason I am able to
fit it into the form of a response to what has been written by Tony
He is a well respected former schoolmate who I have known for many
years. This, my personal tribute may justify the implied criticism of
elitism by the former writer, which Lakshman Kadirgamar himself
mentioned in a speech he once gave at TCK. As I recall it, he said that
if Trinitians are considered to be elitist, "So be it!"
This tribute may also sound somewhat elitist in parts, but it touches
on a less well-known serious issue, reflecting Lakshman Kadirgamar's
insight into foreign interference in our internal affairs. One such
instance was at the international Pugwash Conference in Halifax in 2003,
where incidentally Jayantha Dhanapala gave the Dorothy Hodgkin Memorial
Oration, when the Secretary General of Pugwash charged that there are no
Tamils in Sri Lanka Pugwash.
As embarrassing as this untrue and strange statement would have been
to the President of Pugwash, Dr. Swaminathan who was at one time the
Chairman of the International Irrigation Management Institute, IMMI, now
IWMI, in Colombo, himself a Tamil from Chennai, it also indicates that
ethnicity has infiltrated even the prestigious Pugwash Movement.
Lakshman Kadirgamar was the second Sri lankan President of the Oxford
Union, after Lalith Athulathmudali, and both of them were assassinated
in Colombo in recnet times. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who was Secretary of
the Oxford Union was also assassinated in Colombo. All three represented
an elite public school tradition which the British colonial rulers
established, which S. Nihal Seneviratne has described.
SWRD was an old Thomian, Lalith was an alumnus of Royal College,
Colombo, set up in 1835, Lakshman of Trinity College, Kandy, which was
started in 1872. Both Lalith and Lakshman were outstanding scholars and
track athletes. Laskhman an all-rounder also played cricket and rugby
for his school, and at Oxford.
As it happens, I was a classmate of Lakshman Kadirgamar in the
Primary School at Ladies College, Colombo, right up to the fifth
standard, Grade 5 Today, from where he chose to enter Trinity for his
secondary school education starting in 1943, all his elder brothers
having distinguished themselves at Royal.
I was fortunate to enter Royal College, Bandarawela. At Trintiy,
Lakshman blazed new trails, ending up as Senior Prefect in 1949, winning
the Ryde Gold Medal for the best all-round boy and also a rare athletics
He was able to set up a record in the 120 yards hurdles at the Public
Schools Athletics Championships beating Royalist Channa Gunasekera after
getting off to a flyer. Channa had beaten him in the heats the previous
day setting up a new record that was beaten by Lakshman within 24 hours.
To some of us Royalists at that time he seemed to be emulating the
great Upali Amerasinghe, recognised to this day as the greatest
all-round scholar - sportsman ever produced by Royal College, like unto
the legendary Greek Gods. Only F.C. de Saram was thought to have
achieved some comparable all-round greatness at Royal.
Tony Anghie who won the Dornhorst Memorial Prize in his time at
Royal, equivalent to Trinity's Ryde Gold Medal, hero-worshipped F.C. and
got himself involved in the 1962 coup. But, F.C. de Saram was brought to
book by a more brilliant legal mind, another Royalist Felix Dias
Bandaranaike (earlier plain Felix Dias).
Lakshman too chose a career in Law, graduating from the University of
Ceylon, Peradeniya, and proceeding to Oxford for higher studies. As an
engineer in Sri Lanka I had no contact with Lakshman until his return
after a stint in the UN System, when I was privileged to meet him
occasionally. But, I did hear about his work in WIPO when I worked in
the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs in the 1970s. One event
that struck in my memory was his narrow escape from death when his TWA
flight crash landed in Athens with the tragic loss of many lives.
I did meet him thereafter from time to time by chance rather than by
design, yet each such meeting left an indelible mark in my memory. On
one occasion, as chief guest at a Trinity College prize giving, in the
company of his old classmate at TCK, Franklin Jacob, he greeted me with
his charming smile and the intriguing remark that I was a 'hardy
perennial'. Franklin may have thought that I was many year their senior!
Another memorable event was a conference at Temple Trees called by
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumartunga on a water related
discussion, when Anuruddha Rawatte was the Minister of Irrigation.
President Kumaratunga while introducing me to some of her officials,
suddenly looked over my head to the back of the room, and called out "Lakhman,
do you know my friend DLO?" Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who had arrived
for another meeting and was seated at the back of the room cheerily
called back "I have known him for the past 50 years!", and Intervened
"sixty, not fifty!" much to the surprise of all those present including
On yet another occasion when he gave a memorial lecture at the BMICH
for a former colleague at Peradeniya who had been a Deputy Solicitor
General, he had time for a few words with me about my work on water
related topics while autographing the script of his lecture for me.
Lakshman Kadirgamar, without getting involved in the debate himself,
was aware of the long-standing disagreement among engineers and
scientists about the alleged inefficiency of the ancient small village
irrigation tanks, of which some thirty thousand are known to have been
built. I am inclined to think that this awareness would have contributed
to his support for the JVP as a partner in the coalition government,
with its program for the restoration of one thousand small tanks, in the
Only the late S. Arumugam, an old Thomian, in his day and age
understood that the small tanks are an integral part of a total system
of small, medium and large reservoirs and diversion systems, water and
soil conservation ecosystems, in today's terminology.
It is no secret that influential decision-makers at that time (and
some, other today too) believed that the mega projects like Gal Oya,
Walawe and Mahaweli where hundreds of ancient small tanks were wiped
out, was the only way to development.
Arumugam's memory was honoured by the Institution of Engineers with a
Centenary Oration by Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne on Science and Civilisation in
Sri Lanka on August 31, 2005, his hundredth birthday anniversary. he
died at the ripe age of 95 years in London in March 2000.
Arumugam's daughter from Australia and his son from Canada were
present at this unique event. Perhaps optimistically, I was looking
forward to meeting Lakshman Kadirgamar again after this occasion,
because he was aware of my work at the Needham Research Institute in
Cambridge University, with Joseph Needham, whose great work Science and
Civilisation in China, we are trying to emulate in a small way. Alas,
such critical comment and support for our project will now not be
When the tsunami hit us on December 26, 2004, my immediate reaction
was to suggest to the international Pugwash Conference on Science and
World Affairs that the long talked of international Pugwash conference
in Sri Lanka should be held here at the end of 2005, to commemorate the
first anniversary of this event.
At the Hiroshima conference, I also gave out copies of the Christian
Worker, special issue on the tsunami and the Peace Process which carries
my article titled Pugwash, Water, and Conflict in Sri Lanka, to a few
Pugwashites, who are Fellows of the Royal Society, since the origin of
the Royal Society is discussed in this article.
I have also mentioned the reorganization of the Sri Lanka Pugwash
Group after the Halifax conference in 2003, with Professor C. B.
Dissanayake another Oxford alumnus, with a D.Sc in geology, representing
the hard sciences as Chairman, and Jayantha Dhanapala representing the
soft sciences, as Co-Chairman, Coincidentally, both these eminent
scientists are old Trinitians, like Lakshman Kadirgamar!
Another old Trinitian I knew, who too was killed by assassins, was
Gamini Dissanayake, the charismatic Minister of Irrigation and Mahaweli
Development in the government of old Royalist Junius Richard
He was aware of my views on the ancient irrigation systems, and I had
the opportunity to start a discussion with him on this, on one memorable
occasion at the house of my late father-in-law, a long time supporter of
his party, in Giriulla. That was the time when Mahaweli designers
considered the ancient small tanks to be inefficient and had to be wiped
out, (like terrorism).
My position has always been, following Arumugam, that small tanks in
Sri Lanka are an essential part of a total human-made water and soil
conservation eco-system. But, the discussion at Giriulla that day was
somehow diverted into a friendly argument about the merits of out two
old schools, (maybe elitism again), with Gamini Dissanayake saying that
I had done better than him by sending my sons to Trinity, while I begged
to disagree, saying that he had done better by sending his sons to
Royal! Serious debate on small tanks was forgotten, thereafter!
In conclusion, I think that Lakshman Kadirgamar's assassination was
precipitated by the fact that he was poised to play a vital role in the
resuscitation and rehabilitation of our country whose economy and polity
is being debilitated by so-called foreign aid and various forms of
It is tragic to see this infiltration by foreign vested interests,
and their unwarranted interference in our internal affairs, even in the
prestigious international Pugwash conferences on Science and World
Affairs, as I have mentioned. There is an interesting insight into this
interference in a very recent publication titled Confessions of an
Economic-Hit men by John Perkins. An extract from the Preface reads:
"Economic-hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat
countries around the globe of trillions of dollars. They funnel money
from the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID),
and other foreign "aid" organisations into the coffers of huge
corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the
planet's natural resources.
Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections,
payoffs, extortion, sex and murder. They play a game as old as empire,
but one that has taken new and terrifying dimensions during this time of
globalisation. I should know; I was an EHM".
My friend in USA Jega Arulpragasam another classmate from
kindergarten to University, who sent me the reference adds: The trick,
as I understand it, is for these "economists" at "private" consulting
firms to make impossibly rose estimates of GDP growth in the target
countries as a result of some HUGE development projects.
These economists then sell them to aid agencies like the World Bank,
the Asian Development Bank, USAID et al. And get them to give loans to
these countries, loans that are INTENDED to be defaulted on in a few
years when the GDP growth doesn't materialize. Then the only way these
countries can service their debt is by selling their natural resources,
AND devote an inordinate share of the national budget to paying off debt
rather than to help its dangerously impoverished citizens have better
human services such as healthcare and education.
Lunuganvehera is an outstanding example of this type of borrowing. A
1992 IIMI study reported that the initial loan from the ADB in 1977 was
$ 24 million and the total cost was US$ 30.5 but this was increased in
1982 to US$ 106 million, and "because the financing gap was considered
too large to be met from available sources, and because of
implementation delays, the Government agreed with the Bank and the
co-financiers to implement the project in two phases".
As is well-known this redesign of the project to increase the cost of
this project nearly four fold was only on paper and could never have
been implemented in practice. It remains unscrutinized to this day,
while the bureaucrat mainly responsible for this atrocious transaction
found himself employment in the World Bank after retirement from the
Administrative service in Sri Lanka.
An example of the sale of natural resources to settle this type of
bad national debt, is the Eppawala phosphate project. When first mooted,
the people of Eppawala led by the courageous Eppawala Hamuduruwo,
supported by concerned citizens in Colombo, took a Fundamental Rights
case to the Supreme Court.
The Eppawala judgement is considered a landmark in Environmental law
in this country, but it has been summarily dismissed by proponents of
the proposal to sell out Eppawala to foreign multi-national
corporations, as "unworkable".
The recent news of Chinese aid for exploiting Eppawala phosphate may
be a strategy for circumventing criticism of the multinational
corporations, indicating the cunning of the vested interests in the
case. I grieve for Lakshman Kadirgamar's death because I think he could
have helped us to negate these vested interests. May he Rest in Peace.